The 14 of us were excited as we rolled into Langa last Thursday night, eagerly talking about the weekend and our prospective host families. For the next three nights we would be living in Langa, the first formal township of Cape Town known for its history and close-knit community. By that time I had spent a lot of time in the township of Phillipi during my work with Ons Plek, but it was exciting to see the differences between two townships, and I was happy to be able to live in one instead of leaving every afternoon at 4pm.
|Mama Mandaba taught us how to make bread!|
We spent Thursday night dining at a tiny restaurant in the middle of a residential neighborhood, and we marveled over the huge buffet and delicious fresh-baked bread. As the evening wore on, we were entertained by live music, dancing, and mingling with part of the Langa community. Finally, it was the moment we were all waiting for: who would be our “parents” for the weekend? Jessica and I got introduced to a middle-aged woman with glasses and a headscarf, who gave us firm hugs and told us to call her Mama Mandaba. We would be living at her house for the weekend, alongside her, her grown son Lunga, and her 8-year old grandson Hlomla.
That night, Jess and I got a brief tour of the house before bed. The house had five rooms: a front living room, a small kitchen, a bathroom (no hot water or shower though), and two bedrooms. Jess and I were given Lunga’s bed to sleep in, while Hlomla slept with his grandmother and Lunga graciously slept on the floor.
What shocked me most about the house wasn’t the lack of hot water, or the basin we would need to use to bathe, or the black mold on the ceiling of our bedroom, but the enormous TV that was in Lunga’s room. It was a huge flat-screen TV, bigger than most I see in America, with multiple speakers and a DVD player attached. This turned out to be a theme in Langa, and in most of the townships of Cape Town. No matter how stretched for resources a family may be, they always had a television.
|I told you they had a huge TV! (And yes, we were watching Madagascar)|
Over the weekend I really got an appreciation for what life would be like if I were to actually live in Langa. On Friday, Hlomla, Andre, Andre’s host brother Zibele and I went to the supermarket because I had forgotten to bring a towel. I perused the aisles while Hlomla tried to persuade me to buy him some chocolate ice cream (he was successful). I got more than a few curious glances, however Hlomla and Zibele made me feel totally comfortable. That evening we went to the local tavern, Tiger, to drink and hang out with the older members of our host families. Mama Mandabe and Lunga weren’t there (“I’m too old to groove” said Mama), but I had a great time mingling with the other families.
My favorite activity of the weekend was our Saturday trip to Mzoli’s, a famous braai (barbeque) joint in Gugulethu. We spent the entire afternoon there, drinking hard cider, dancing to African-influenced club music, and eating the most delicious chicken and sausages I have ever had.
|Mzoli's: a carnivore's paradise|
Despite the delicacies of Mzoli’s and the drinks and Tigers, the best part of my weekend was getting to know my new family. Mama Mandaba is an awesome cook, and Jess and I learned how to make fresh bread (delicious!) and vinegar-porridge (less delicious). Lunga worked long hours as a taxi driver and came home late at night, but always spent time watching TV and chatting with me and Jess. My favorite family member, however, was Hlomla. We became very close over the weekend, and he was the adorable, entertaining, mildly-overwhelming kid brother I never had. At eight years old he was in the hilarious transition between childhood and adolescence. During the day, he would run around with his friends, dancing to rap songs and getting into trouble. In the early mornings though, he would try to crawl into bed between me and Jess and snuggle until his grandmother called him to breakfast. One of my favorite memories was walking through Langa with him on Saturday morning to visit his mother’s house. We chatted talked about living in the township and he tried to teach me some words in Xhosa as we walked hand in hand.
|Me and Hlomla, being silly at the end of our trip|
Living in Langa was fun and endlessly educational, but it wasn’t comfortable. In addition to having no hot water, I woke up on our last morning with over 60 mysterious bug bites which I’ve spent the last week itching. Despite this, however, I am immensely glad that we had this opportunity. To write about everything I felt and experienced would take pages and pages (but feel free to talk to me about it if you have any questions!). Staying in Langa really let me experience daily life in the townships, and shifted my perspective about how many of the things I deem “necessary” for living are really just luxuries. I learned that it doesn’t really matter what you have in your home; it’s the people you fill it with that makes all the difference.
|A few of my lovely bug bites...should I be alarmed?|
Written by Leah Rosenbaum